How I Became a Luddite

I suppose it began with the Walkman.  I never actually owned one, but I borrowed them enough to know I didn’t really want my own personal soundtrack except on rare occasions, usually stationary at my desk.  So I wasn’t tempted by the iPod, though I listen to most of my music on my computer.  But my big step was in not getting a cell phone.  I still don’t have one.  As far as I can tell, it’s still a chronically unreliable technology, rather like owning an American car in the 70’s.  A favorite subject of social conversation now is cell phone woes.  Nearly all of you understand these better than I.  A nice young woman at dinner last night said she’d started receiving anonymous porn messages on her cell.  Many wish they could do without their cell phones, but they are cursed for life apparently.  Sort of like me and heart meds.  I do appreciate that cell phones have made eavesdropping on intimate conversations about damn near anything way easier, and for all that good material, I am grateful and unrepentant.

As a writer working at home during the day, I’m not crazy about The Phone.  Or, as I often call it, The Phucking Phone.  The no call list helps, but since the biggest biz in the world (American Politics) isn’t excluded, interruptions still abound.  I’m also fond of those Rat Bastards who claim to be charitable raising money for the police, orphans, et. al. and keeping 90% themselves.  There are also times, I confess, that I haven’t wanted an employer or deranged lover to be able to reach me on the phone.  So I wasn’t exactly enticed by the cellular technology that evoked images of no escape.  Hundreds of earnest pitches have been made to me by users based on Safety.  What if I Break Down?!  Like I said, just like an American Car in the 70’s.  I’ll probably die being run over by a motorist on a cell phone who ignored me in the crosswalk, and I’m sure all the witnesses will have cell phones to report the matter, take my picture, post to YouTube…

When I teach science fiction writing, I’m always advising students to remember who doesn’t use the technology they’re imagining.  A homogenous world isn’t plausible. Now I’m in a minority of non-users of what I’ve heard called “a necessity of modern life.”  Most apparently agree.  A friend sent me a NYT article with the following factoid:  Only 15% of Americans don’t have cell phones for various reasons, mostly bad coverage or can’t afford it.  I’m in a well-covered city and could afford it, making my reason “Chooses not to.”  You know how many gave that answer?  5%.  We’re talking tiny minority.  This happened very quickly.  I know there were clunkoid phones in the 80’s, but the fever’s been less than 20 years.  It’s now become a cultural study for me.  How long can I hold out?  When will I join in the fun?  When will I be safe?

More Richmond Noir Events and Review

Friday night, 5-7 pm, at Book People, 536 Granite Avenue (near Libbie and Grove) will be Richmond Noir Open House with editors and contributors available to mix, mingle, and sign.  Saturday, we’ll be at the Barnes & Noble, 1-4 pm, at Libbie Place.  Stop by PetSmart and see the dogs, then come by and visit us, maybe adopt a copy or two of Richmond Noir.

Finally, here’s a wonderful review from the Library Journal:

Richmond Noir. Akashic. Mar. 2010. 290p. ed. by Andrew Blossom & others. ISBN 978-1-933354-98-9. pap. $15.95. M
Richmond, VA, is a city of contrasts. Steeped in history—as the capital of the Confederacy and a center of slave trade—the city has become known for state politics, commerce, culture, and crime as it has become increasingly diverse, while still symbolizing Southern gentility. Although each of these 15 stories reveals a side of Richmond, its contrasts are shown most vividly in Dennis Danvers’s “Texas Beach,� in which a man finds the body of an immigrant killed accidentally while illegally felling trees so that a prominent white politician would have a better view of the James River from his mansion. Murder, scattered through these entries, is most chilling when it is imminent, as in Tom De Haven’s “Playing with DaBlonde,� in which a laid-off ad exec who’s into porn sees premonitions coming true. VERDICT A lovingly compiled entry in Akashic’s strong regional noir series, this could have appeal beyond the Commonwealth and its capital.

Tiger, Tiger

Tiger apologized to me, and it was about time.  I mean, he shook my faith in the clear correlation between skilled golfing and moral virtue.  How could someone so successful and rich do bad things?  I was glad to see the news media all agree that Tiger’s apology was and continues to be the most newsworthy event on the planet.  I would like them to dig deeper, to uncover the source of the virtue imparting powers of golf and why they failed so tragically in this case, so it won’t happen again.  Haven’t our role model deprived children suffered enough?  If he’d played pool or Frisbee or a mean pinball, his profligate sexuality would make sense.  We all know what kind of degenerates those sports spawn.  But golf?  I just don’t know how I can live with the reality that a man who amassed a fortune largely on the basis of endorsing products that have nothing to do with him or his putter would have anything but the most admirable moral qualities.  I’m shattered.  Just a thought, Tiger.  Maybe you could do one of those Hardee’s commercials, a big Buick with Cheater spray painted on the side, you gorging on jalapeño-laden meat?

Hurray for LA

Sarah had a couple of days off for Lee-Jackson Day and Martin Luther King Day, and we needed to get away.  We both read The Big Sleep, stayed in a fabulous old downtown hotel for way cheap, and relied entirely on public transport, except for the bikes we rented in Santa Monica.  What a great town LA is, in its sprawling California way.  We went to Hollywood, Santa Monica, Venice, Griffith Park, MOCA, La Brea tar pits, the market—the whole tourist experience.  Public transport was cheap, plentiful and efficient.  We found Californians incredibly friendly and helpful.  We had one spectacular crazy on a busride home.  Truly eloquent.  In Venice we resisted the Kush Doctors being advertised but rode with a herd of pub crawling med students who emanated a manic contact high of their own.  I’m contemplating putting them on the same bus with the crazy in some fictional busride.  The weather was luxuriously warm and exquisite until the very end when we were rained on a little, but we found great shelter in Birds on Franklin Avenue, a terrific place.  The bookstore down the way had a 1st edition hardback of Circuit of Heaven I signed for them.  Don’t have too many of those myself, but the price was too high for me.  Some pictures:  Me with a Short-faced bear at La Brea, the Griffith Observatory and LA from Griffith Park, and the Santa Monica Pier.

Avatar 3D

I don’t need to include a picture with this.  You already know what the blue people look like.  They eat at McDonald’s.  They’re noble savages.  We earthlings are assholes.  No surprises here.  I was prepped for this movie by friend Len Krueger who suggested I think Dances with Wolves, maybe even Pocahontas.  The bar was way low in other words.  I went by myself, probably the best way to see this movie so that whatever you like won’t be too embarrassing right after.  It doesn’t have a brain in its predictable head, but it totally sucked me into its 3D world, so that by the end I loved those 9 foot blue people.  I was never bored.  Whether this is art or mind control I don’t know, but I enjoyed the ride.  Get in touch with your inner earth goddess and surrender to the software.

Happy New Year

Last year, April 27th, around 10:30 am, I almost died.  I had a burst artery in my heart, and I was losing consciousness.  I distinctly remember peering over an abyss, thinking, I’ve got to stop this.  I put my head between my legs and found the one aspirin in a bottle in my backpack and dry swallowed it.  I was sitting in this chair.  I remember that moment every single day, sometimes several times in one day.  I’ve made some changes since then, lost about twenty pounds, started running, see my life as a much shorter narrative than I had before.  We all like to think in terms of a series of trilogies.  Nobody wants to be a novella.  The quality, however, is what counts.  I love my life.  As 2010 begins, my first novel Wilderness is being reissued 20 years to the day after my agent told me she’d sold it.  The next issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction will contain a story of mine—a dream since adolescence.  And two stories I have a special fondness for, “Texas Beach” and “Healing Benjamin” will appear in terrific anthologies (Richmond Noir and Tails of Wonder and Imagination).  I wrote both these stories, both involving beloved pets, as I was struggling with the decision to euthanize Alice, a most wonderful dog I was privileged to share a life with.  I’m revising a YA novel, Cloverleaf, and have completed a draft of a thriller, The Recluse or The President’s Dog.  A favorite weird story, “The Art Disease,” will be appearing in John Klima’s excellent Electric Velocipede.  My kids are well and happy, I love my wonderful wife, and the new young pup is a joy.  Life is good, every single moment.  Happy New Year, everyone, and many more.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone.  I’ve heard that us non-Christians are supposed to prefer “Happy Holidays” but find the whole issue extremely silly.  I like the kid in the manger story, the guy in the red suit, the music.  As I was doing my morning run these last few weeks I’ve been air whistling “Silent Night” or “Come All Ye Faithful.”  It’s my favorite winter solstice celebration.  Days are short—be generous and happy.  Happy holidays?  Give me a break.

lost boy lost girl

I’ve met Peter Straub at ICFA and heard him read a few times from work in progress.  He’s a very nice man and a terrific writer, so I thought I’d try one of his books even though I don’t usually read horror.  I loved this novel for the writing, the characters, the interesting and unusual plot, the clever narrative strategies, and its humane and intelligent themes.  Straub is a true master.  Let this be a lesson to me.  If I had ten bucks for every time I’ve told someone on a plane when asked “I’m a science fiction writer” to receive the answer “I don’t like science fiction,” I could buy a round trip ticket to San Francisco.  My own “I don’t like horror fiction” has kept me away from a terrific writer.  Truth is there’s something in every genre I’ve ever read to admire and enjoy, and all genres produce disappointing predictable work more often than not.  I can’t wait to read more of Straub’s work, even though “I don’t like horror.”

SF on TV

As I watch the last few episodes of Dollhouse, and V and FlashForward go on a lengthy hiatus probably headed toward cancellation, I can’t help lamenting the good/bad state of sf on TV.  While most recent sf films are shallow special effects monstrosities, TV sf has been working toward increasing sophistication.  One of the best was the predictably canceled Terminator series.  All of them achieve a depth of characterization and sf complexity by having an ongoing plot instead of some little weirdness conveniently resolved in 45 minutes or so (minus commercials).  The problem with the more sophisticated approach, of course, is that it becomes increasingly difficult to acquire new viewers.  No new viewers = cancellation.  Perhaps, once that more and more viewers consume their TV via the web this might not be such a problem.  If you watch on Hulu, you can pick up a series like Lost from the beginning and ride it on through to the end at any time.  From what I’ve seen so far, V probably deserves to die, but no series with a continuous plot line can thrive being absent for months at a time.  Reality crap, dozens of CSI and Law & Order clones make it but bore me to tears.  Good sf appears, then is gone.  Sigh.

Sleep Dealer

Readers of The Fourth World are familiar with my interest in the politics of immigration and technology.  Sleep Dealer, set in a near-future Mexico, is a brilliant exploration of the theme.  While American sf films get worse and worse—witness the recent Star Drek—films like this and the previously mentioned District 9 are being made elsewhere.  Why critics must say it’s “disguised as science fiction” when it’s nothing but is due to the American crap that defines the genre in most peoples’ minds so that if it’s worth watching by anyone over 12, it can‘t be sf.  If the politics of “illegals” shows up in your town (and where doesn’t it?), or if you’ve ever wondered about that term “American Dream”—see this film.